Anti-Congo regime protesters set fires outside Paris's Gare de Lyon station

Vehicles and bins burned in a street aside the Gare de Lyon rail station in Paris on February 28, 2020.
Vehicles and bins burned in a street aside the Gare de Lyon rail station in Paris on February 28, 2020. AFP - JULIEN CLAUS

The Gare de Lyon train station was partially evacuated on Friday and dozens of people were arrested amid violent protests against a Congolese singer due to give a concert nearby.


“Avoid the area and allow the emergency services to intervene,” the police said on Twitter, adding later the fire had been brought under control and was “being extinguished.”

Police said they had intervened to stop protesters who set alight garbage bins and scooters, releasing a thick, black smoke cloud over the city centre.

The Congolese singer Fally Ipupa was to give a concert at the AccorHotels Arena, which is not far from the station. Police had banned any protests around the concert.

The police on Twitter reported “unacceptable violence by people who have violated the ban on protesting on the sidelines of a concert”.

It posted a video of what it said was “scandalous behaviour” by protesters shown wielding large roadworks barriers to prevent firefighters from getting to the blaze.

The SNCF train service operator said the underground section of the Gare de Lyon was evacuated as a precautionary measure. Train traffic was severely disrupted.

Outside the station, AFP witnessed a dozen firetrucks at work amid the smouldering wrecks of about 30 vehicles, mainly scooters.

Congolese expats regularly speak out against artists from home who perform in France or Belgium, accusing them of being close to former DR Congo president Joseph Kabila and his successor Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in January 2019. Many see Tshisekedi as an extension of his predecessor.

Outside the arena, Ipupa backers and Congolese opposition faced off, exchanging insults. The police said that 30 people were arrested and 54 fined for participating in a banned protest.

“With their music, they (the Congolese government) are bringing an entire people to their side while they slaughter and rape women and children,” opponent Willy Dendebe told AFP at the scene.

“I have been here (in France) for 30 years because of them! Thirty years and we let them be here in France as if nothing has happened. So yes, we are angry!”

Last month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Congolese army and other state agents committed rights violations in the conflict-wracked central African country.

Just days earlier, Amnesty International delivered a damning assessment of Tshisekedi's government, saying "insecurity and impunity continue to threaten human rights progress" in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lwangi Bienvenu, a fan who travelled from Belgium for the concert, observed the chaos from his hotel near the Gare de Lyon.

“It’s a shame. He’s Congolese, we should all be behind him,” Bienvenu said of the singer. “People will talk about the bad inside us. They put people in danger and they will now surely cancel the concert.”

A 2017 concert by Ipupa was cancelled by police citing risks for “serious disturbances to the public order.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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